Step Into The Incredible World Of A. Lange & Söhne
In less than thirty years, A. Lange & Söhne has risen to become one of the most coveted makers of high-end timepieces on the planet. A particularly impressive feat in an industry where brand heritage is measured in centuries. This comes as no surprise, of course, to those who are familiar with Lange and its myriad accomplishments and accolades. These passionate enthusiasts and discerning collectors are already well versed in the dedication and discipline the company has become renowned for in its unrelenting and uncompromising pursuit of excellence.
Now it is our privilege to afford this same opportunity to you and invite you into the truly extraordinary world of A. Lange & Söhne. Read on to discover more about this special and unique brand that everyone is talking about. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
A Tale Of Two Lange’s
The A. Lange & Söhne brand you know and love today officially debuted its first timepieces to the market in 1994. A mere four years after two great visionaries – Walter Lange and Günter Blümlein – proposed their plans to establish the Lange manufactory. But there is much, much more to the story and understanding this rich history is key to understanding the motivations that drive Lange today.
Our journey through time takes us back to 1843, in Germany, where a gentleman by the name of Ferdinand A. Lange has spent the last decade distinguishing himself as a watchmaker of considerable merit, with an international reputation for his prized pocket watches. Having worked under two great master watchmakers, he decides he is ready to step out on his own. A man of great vision, he devises a meticulously calculated business plan to establish a manufactory in the impoverished town of Glashütte. His goal is clear, yet ambitious; to compete with the watchmaking centres of England and Switzerland, and at the same time aid the region (once a prosperous silver mining community).
Despite the challenging conditions and, at times, seemingly insurmountable uphill battle to establish German watchmaking on the global stage, F.A. Lange devoted himself to the manufacture. Eventually his efforts were rewarded, thanks in no small part to the many innovations he pioneered. Among them was the development of the distinctive three-quarter plate, which remains one of the most important traditional elements at A. Lange & Söhne today. It allowed every pivot in the wheel work to be fixed in a structure that is stable on all sides. He also reorganized the manufacturing process and improved the tools used by his watchmakers. This reduced error rates significantly, whilst also increasing output.
In 1868, F.A. Lange’s eldest son Richard officially became a partner in the company, which was then renamed: A. Lange & Söhne. A few short years later, in 1871, second son, Emil, joined his brother. Upon their father’s death in 1875, the two sons took over the manufactory, with the goal of sharing their late father’s vision for mechanical timekeeping with an ever-growing global audience. By the early 20th-century, A. Lange & Söhne had earned a worldwide reputation for prestige and manufacturing excellence, particularly its complicated and elaborately decorated pocket watches, which were highly sought-after.
The 40-Year Dream
Sadly though, the advent of World War II would bring an abrupt and unfortunate end to this tremendous progress. In 1945, on the last night of the war, the company’s main production building was partially destroyed in a bombing. Before the family could even begin putting back the pieces of their shattered lives the Iron Curtain came down and the expropriation of German businesses in the Soviet-occupied zone began. In 1948, all the Glashütte watch companies were nationalized and the A. Lange & Söhne brand ceased to exist.
But throughout it all, one man kept the flame of hope alive in his heart that he could one day restore his family’s business back to its former glory. And in, 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall the preceding year, Walter Lange – great-grandson of Ferdinand Adolph Lange – did exactly that. Partnering with industry legend Günter Blümlein, they made a plan to establish the Lange manufactory anew, exactly 145 years after Ferdinand Adolph Lange laid the foundations for German fine watchmaking.
Two years later, the new Lange Uhren GmbH filed its first patent in 1992: the outsize date. A further two years after that, this patented complication appeared in three of the four first A. Lange & Söhne watches – including the now iconic Lange 1. It has since become a defining feature of many of A. Lange & Söhne’s timepieces.
The Lange Way
F.A. Lange firmly believed in making things as simply and as beautifully as possible. He didn’t like complexity for complexity’s sake, although that’s not to say he did not make very complicated timepieces. Quite the opposite. But he always sought out ways to simplify the process in order to safeguard quality. He was also a stickler for detail, which meant that no matter how big the manufactory got, the end product could never be compromised. If it had his family name on the dial, it had to be as close to perfect as possible. This formidable mindset has become a cornerstone of the modern A. Lange & Söhne, unofficially referred to as the “Lange way”.
Practically speaking, what this means is that when it comes to the design, manufacture and assembly of its incredible timepieces, there is only one way; the Lange way. No effort is spared in creating a timepiece that is as near perfection as possible. And not just the complicated ones. Every timepiece. This unyielding dedication to maintaining unimpeachable quality standards is perhaps best encapsulated by Lange’s strict adherence to the rule that every movement must be assembled twice. Be it for a simple three-hander or a multi-complication. That means that after countless hours spent assembling and adjusting the various mechanical parts to achieve the highest degree of precision, each movement is disassembled, and then reassembled again.
The initial assembly is undertaken to ensure everything fits smoothly in its proper place, functions seamlessly and is adjusted to the optimal position. This is a time-consuming and pain-staking process and one which can inadvertently leave fingerprints or even fine scratches on the sensitive surface of the German silver Lange uses for its baseplates. Therefore, once all the fine-tuning is done, the movement is once again disassembled before final decorations are added to the plate and other ornamented parts. In this way, the calibre assembled for the second time can be presented at its best. Both in terms of precision and appearance.
Incredibly, a good number of the parts that are finished with the utmost care and expertise by Lange’s in-house artisans will never even be seen by anyone other than the watchmaker assembling the movement, or one of his or her colleagues who services it in years to come. Each component is decorated with its own specific type of finissage (finishing), whether or not it is visible through the sapphire-crystal caseback. Yet another example of how the German watch manufacturer relentlessly pursues perfection down to the very last detail, regardless of who gets to see it.
Masters Of The Mechanical
From the outset, Walter Lange’s proclaimed goal was to once again build watches that are among the best in the world, both aesthetically and technically. The company’s watchmakers are given carte blanche to challenge the conventions of traditional fine watchmaking, whilst still showing a deep respect for them. This is why you will often hear Lange’s creations described as contemporary explorations of classic ideas, underpinned by a relentless drive to innovate.
Since 1990, no less than 69 manufacture calibres have been developed (an impressive achievement by any measure). Some of these mechanical movements are among the most sophisticated on the market, resulting in the registering of a staggering number of patents by Lange, such as the ZERO-RESET mechanism, the Constant-Force Escapement and the Stop Seconds for the Tourbillon. Nearly all of these developments have been borne out of Lange’s never-ending quest for practical solutions to complex challenges, all in the name of improving accuracy and reliability whilst celebrating the traditional art of fine watchmaking. And while we cannot possibly seek to cover them all in detail here, we have highlighted below for you a very small selection of exceptional pieces from the brand:
A. Lange & Söhne Datograph
Almost every conversation about Lange’s prowress as a watchmaker must begin with the Datograph, widely considered the best mechanical chronograph ever. Although relatively ubiquitous in the watch world, the chronograph is actually one of the most complex complications to design and assemble due to the sheer number of components. So much so, that when Lange debuted the Datograph (date + chronograph) in 1999, it was the first, completely new, in-house mechanical chronograph produced in the last quarter of the 20th century. Incorporating a fly-back function and precisely jumping minutes counter, it also featured a quick-set outsized date, and two irregularly placed reversed panda sub-dials, an attractive aesthetic that has since become a signature of the model and its subsequent iterations. Inside the case is the calibre L951.1, a 405-component masterpiece, which many have referred to as resembling a mini-metropolis due to its depth and complexity. The Datograph has since been surpassed by the Double Split and the Triple Split in terms of functionality but will always remain a legend.
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar
As part of the initial four timepieces unveiled by A. Lange & Söhne in 1994, the Lange 1 is a watchmaking icon in every sense of the word. Over the years Lange has continued to develop and expand this single model into an entire stand-alone collection. A relatively recent addition to the line-up is the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar, the first Lange 1 to be devoted exclusively to this practical yet challenging complication. Presented in a 41.9mm case – in pink or white gold – hours and minutes are shown on an off-centred dial in the right-hand side of the dial. Above and to the left is the model’s famous outsize date window at 11 o’clock. Beneath this are the days of the week, displayed vertically and indicated to by a retrograde hand. Next is the moon phase display with small seconds, which features an integrated the day/night indicator via a gradient blue disc. Around the periphery of the dial the months are arranged on a ring which advances once a month. An applied gold arrow at 6 o’clock points to the current month. Yet another example from Lange of an apparently simple solution that is deceptively challenging to implement in practice.
A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Minute Repeater
The Zeitwerk Minute Repeater is the first mechanical wristwatch with a jumping numerals display and a decimal minute repeater. Thanks to the delayed numerals switching mechanism developed and patented by A. Lange & Söhne, the acoustic time indication corresponds exactly with the jumping numerals reading. This special mechanism prevents the numerals discs from advancing while the striking mechanism is active. That’s because a switching operation (i.e. jumping the numerals forward) while the repeater is active could result in mechanical conflicts and damage the movement. Immediately following the final chime, the display discs will instantly correct themselves. As soon as the striking mechanism is activated with the button at 10 oʼclock, the gong hammer on the left strikes the hours, while the one on the right the single minutes. For the double-tone ten-minute intervals, both hammers strike the gongs slightly offset in time. The complex gong tuning process is performed exclusively by hand. It requires a trained ear to make sure both gongs produce a clear and reverberating sound in their final positions in the case.
We hope you have enjoyed this all too brief foray into the incredible world of A. Lange & Söhne. To learn even more about this remarkable brand and to experience its exceptional timepieces in person, we invite you to visit the A. Lange & Söhne Boutique at 14 Martin Place, Sydney. Our team of highly trained staff will be on hand to answer any and all of your questions and look forward to welcoming you in store soon.